David's Blog

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“But how exactly did this roster become such a juggernaut?”

WENDY THURM 

July 25, 2014

THE OTHER GUYS   

 

OAKLAND, Calif. -- Bob Melvin stares intently and watches Josh Donaldson take batting practice. The other Oakland A's players joke around as they wait their turn in the cage. A's owner Lew Wolff is there, and chats up Ken Korach, the team's radio play-by-play broadcaster. But Bob Melvin stands quietly behind a net, halfway up the third base line, and stares. The A's manager was nervous that Donaldson and teammate Yoenis Cespedes would alter their swings for the Home Run Derby and return from the All-Star break with bad mechanics or, worse, an injury. He's relieved with what he's seen from Donaldson and Cespedes in the week since.

There was no nervousness, though, when Melvin watched six A's take center stage for the American League in the All-Star Game -- Donaldson, Cespedes, Brandon Moss, Derek Norris, Scott Kazmir and Sean Doolittle. Melvin felt only pride. "You'd normally have a phenom coming up and making his mark and going to an All-Star Game," he said. "To be able to see all those guys out there, so many A's, was rewarding and a testament to how hard these guys have worked. It was a great story."

But how exactly did this roster become such a juggernaut?

Donaldson was drafted by the Chicago Cubs in 2007 out of Auburn University and traded to the A's the next year when the Cubs acquired Rich Harden. He toiled in the A's minor league system for three-and-a-half seasons. He was a catcher who could also play third base. He hit for average and took his walks, but his power numbers dropped when he reached Sacramento, where the A's Triple-A franchise plays. His big break came in 2012 when the A's expected third baseman, Scott Sizemore, tore the ACL in his left knee on the first day of spring training. That day, Donaldson asked Melvin if should move to third.Melvin said yes and the next day told Donaldson to put away his catcher's gear. He then played his way onto the Opening Day roster.

But Donaldson struggled to hit and found himself back in Sacramento, replaced by Brandon Inge, who'd been released by the Detroit Tigers. Donaldson reclaimed third base in mid-August and hasn't looked back since. He hit .301/.384/.499 last season and played spectacular defense at third. He was the third-most valuable position player in the league, according to FanGraphs and finished fourth in American League MVP voting. This season, he was the starting third baseman for the American League in the All-Star Game.

Brandon Moss traveled a similar, non-traditional path to All-Star status. The Red Sox drafted Moss out of high school in 2002 but he didn't see the majors for the first time until 2007. He played everywhere in the field while in the Red Sox's farm system but saw time only in the outfield after his call up to the majors. Moss was hitting .295/.337/.462 when the Red Sox shipped him to the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2008 as part of the Manny Ramirez-Jason Bay trade. The Pirates asked Moss to change his swing, to try to take the ball the other way, despite his success as a pull hitter. He struggled through the 2009 season and found himself back in the minors, first with the Pirates in 2010 and then with the Phillies in 2011. At age 28, his career looked bleak.

Then the A's signed him to a minor-league contract before the 2012 season. Moss looked at the logjam in the A's outfield -- Cespedes, Coco Crisp, Josh Reddick, Johnny Gomes and Seth Smith -- and knew the only way he'd make it to Oakland was by playing first base. So he asked his Triple-A manager Steve Scarsone if he could get time at first. Scarsone said yes and on June 6, 2012, Moss made his A's debut with a start at first base.

Moss's slash in 322 games for the A's over the last three seasons is .268/.345/.541 with 73 home runs. He ranks in the top 20 of the most valuable position players in the American League, according to FanGraphs. And, for Bob Melvin, he's been invaluable. When Josh Reddick suffered a knee injury in early June, Moss was back in right field, where he'd played sparingly since 2012. "I'm an offense guy," Moss said. "I'll play wherever they need me so I can stay in the lineup," adding that players need to be flexible to succeed. "Even Mike Trout has changed positions," Moss noted.

It's not just the All-Stars. Every player who has put on an A's uniform this season has moved around the field, the lineup, the rotation or the bullpen. In their first 100 games, the A's used 75 different lineups and 81 different batting orders (not including pitchers). By contrast, in their first 98 games, the Detroit Tigers used only 54 different lineups and 70 different batter orders (sans pitchers). For the Baltimore Orioles, those numbers are 55 and 59 in 100 games.

Perhaps the A's flexibility mantra is no more evident than in Stephen Vogt. Oakland acquired the minor-league catcher from the Tampa Bay Rays at the start of the 2013 season for cash. Vogt had bounced around the Rays' farm system for more than five years and when he finally got his chance in the majors, he went hitless in 25 at bats. When A's catcher John Jaso suffered a season-ending concussion, Vogt got the call to Oakland, where he hit .252/.295/.400 in 47 games.

With Jaso healthy, Vogt started this season back in Sacramento where he hit .364/.412/.602 -- eye-popping numbers even in the offensively-charged Pacific Coast League. When Reddick went down and Melvin asked Moss to take some time in right field, the A's needed someone to play first base. And when Moss was back at first, someone to play in right field. Maybe left field, too. And a few games behind the plate. That someone is Vogt.

Since his June 1 call-up, Vogt has played more than 105 innings in right field, more than 65 at first base and more than 85 at catcher. He played one game in left. He's had at least three at bats in every spot in the batting order, except for third and fourth. Oh, and he's hitting .355/.386/.516 in 132 plate appearances.

Vogt is non-plussed about what his manager has asked him to do. "I talked with Bob and the other coaches when I got to Oakland, and they asked me my comfort level in the outfield," Vogt told me recently. "I said 'I'm comfortable, it's just been a while.' So they eased me into it." I asked Vogt how far in advance he knows what position he'll be playing on any given day. "Around one o'clock, when I get to the ballpark." Is it difficult to get ready with so little time to physically and mentally prepare? "Not really," said Vogt. "I just put in my work for whatever position I'll play that day. It's all about me being honest with Melvin and the coaches."

Of course, a lot of the credit for the way this A's team has gelled should go to the way the manager has handled all these moving parts. The players certainly appreciate it. "Bob gives us constant feedback," said Vogt. "He's always asking how we're doing. He's always giving us a sense of where he is with us. I've never played for a manager that gives that much feedback. He talks to Billy [Beane] and the front office. It's just an open communication with everyone."

Echoed Jaso, "If someone is hot and playing really well, some managers will ride that player until he gets cold. BoMel will keep the player doing what he's doing. I only play against right-handed pitchers. If I was hot, he wouldn't put me in against lefties. It keeps my hot streaks going longer."

For his part, Melvin isn't interested in talking about himself as a reason for the A's success. Nor does he want to talk about how the A's can get to the next level this season, past a division title and deep into the postseason. "We have to get there first. Our whole mindset is about today's game. If you get farther out than that, it's a distraction," he said. "One of the strengths of this team is being able to focus on today and giving our complete effort. We're not thinking a week down the road, let alone October at this point."

http://www.sportsonearth.com/article/86152726/oakland-as-bob-melvin-josh-donaldson-brandon-moss-yoenis-cespedes#!bmo1vs

 

“Baseball is mean like that.”

Jim Johnson is a reminder that even Billy Beane isn't perfect

By Marc Normandin  @Marc_Normandin on Jul 24 2014

 

Neither are his peers, though.

The Jim Johnson experiment in Oakland is now at an end, as the Athleticsdesignated the $10 million reliever for assignment after a disastrous half-season. It wasn't supposed to be an experiment at all, though: the A's acquired Johnson from the Orioles this past winter because they had a need at closer and had the money, and Johnson -- in theory -- had the ability. While it hasn't damaged the A's season much -- they're leading the majors in both wins and winning percentage -- Johnson's 2014 does serve as a reminder that relievers are relatively unpredictable and just having money to spend isn't enough on its own.

Relievers aren't fungible, so if you've come looking for a screed criticizing the A's for spending money on a closer, you're in the wrong place. Huge amounts of money for a closer, though, should probably be reserved for the best of the best: From 2008 through 2013, Johnson posted a 148 ERA+ in relief over 395 innings, good for 13th in the majors, minimum 300 innings, in that stretch.The $10 million he was set to make thanks to arbitration is a number that is in part inflated by his saves totals -- he led the AL in both 2012 and 2013 as the O's stopper -- but overall, when you look at his body of work outside the saves, he seems as if he had earned the chance to make eight figures, probably more so than some of those who have pulled off the same feat.

The Orioles disagreed, obviously, but it's not like they have a stellar track record with pitching, especially not in comparison to the A's: they needed to move Johnson so they'd have a place to use their failed starting pitching prospects besides Triple-A yet again. (And so they could have money to sign Nelson Cruz, but that ruins the joke.)

The 2013 season was up there with some of Johnson's best work, as he brought his strikeout rate back over seven per nine and punched out three times as many batters as he walked, while keeping the ball in the park despite home games in a stadium designed to do the opposite. He also managed to do all of this with a .330 batting average on balls in play, a figure so lofty it hinted that a better, luckier future awaited. His relatively low 85-percent saves conversion rate (50 saves, nine blown saves) seemingly went hand in hand with the high BABIP. Instead, it might have been an omen of things to come. Johnson's command and control both vanished this summer, with his walk rate more than doubling to over five per nine and his home run rate rocketing to 1.1 despite the switch to a friendlier environment.

That 2013 BABIP might have just been the start of something that Johnson didn't pay for over his 70 innings of relief, but when that something wasn't fixed a year later, things went to hell: Johnson posted a .396 BABIP in his 40-odd innings with the A's, nearly 100 points higher than his career number and even further ahead of the O.co average.

Johnson has lost a little bit of velocity, and PITCHf/x suggests his two-seam fastball went from a reliable offering to a garbage pitch since 2012 came to a close. As a reliever who relied on grounders and the defense behind him, Johnson's inability to put his two-seamer where it needed to go meant his immediate downfall, and an Athletics' defense with Jed Lowrie and Brandon Moss around probably didn't help matters. Even if they were all-world with the glove, though, there was no saving this iteration of Johnson from his own failings.

This happens, not just with relievers, but with all players at some point. You just have to hope you're not stuck footing the bill for anyone's unraveling, but it happens, even to Billy Beane. In fact, it could happen more often now that the A's have more money to play with. The A's were shielded from players like Johnson in the past, expensive players with obvious flaws they managed to mask or transiently overcome. In Johnson's case, that's a lack of swing-and-miss in his game and a reliance on hitting his spots. It's not a bad thing while you're still inducing grounders and keeping the ball low, but it can get ugly in a hurry when you can't hit your spots and can't miss any bats to compensate for it. The A's took shots on this kind of player in the past, but they wouldn't spend $10 million, either: credit the Athletics and Beane for spending the extra money sent their way thanks to MLBAM's shrewd media negotiating, but they'd probably prefer if we could credit them for spending it wisely.

The A's should keep spending money in the future, because not everyone with a significant price tag is going to bust on them. The expensive busts are just more noticeable, and it's sometimes harder to get them out of their roles. The A's spent money to add a closer to a roster that was already filled out, though, so in a relative sense, they got off light here, even if it was an expensive failure. It's just money, and the A's will have more of it to spend as soon as 2015, because Johnson was only a one-year commitment.

Plus, Beane's going to look smart when the Rays pick up Johnson on the A's tab and he suddenly pitches like it's his peak again. Of course, that will just be making up for their own expensive closer signing of the man Jim Johnson replaced, Grant Balfour. Baseball is mean like that.

http://www.sbnation.com/mlb/2014/7/24/5933977/jim-johnson-athletics-released-closer

 

“one of the Red Sox’s poorest decisions since letting Babe Ruth go to the Yankees”

 JUL 24, 2014 

Billion-Dollar Billy Beane

By BENJAMIN MORRIS

The film version of “Moneyball” depicts many establishment baseball types as ignorant of where wins in baseball come from and clueless about how to properly value talent.

Take, for example, the scene when John Henry — the billionaire owner of the Boston Red Sox — tries to recruit the Oakland Athletics’ general manager Billy Beane. Henry tells Beane that any managers not rebuilding their teams with Beane’s system in mind are “dinosaurs,” and then hands him a slip of paper. On it, there’s an offer for Beane to become the new Red Sox general manager for the insane amount of $12.5 million dollars over five years. His fictional colleague tells us that the offer would make Beane “the highest-paid GM in the history of sports.” Despite appearing tempted, Beane ultimately declines the deal, claiming, “I made one decision in my life based on money and I swore I’d never do it again.”1

Beane may not be the highest-paid GM in the history of sports, but he may be the most famous. An outfielder originally drafted 23rd overall by the New York Mets in 1980, Beane made his MLB debut in 1984, but was never successful against top competition. After getting washed out of the league, he became a scout for the A’s and eventually worked his way up to GM in 1997. As GM, he has used Bill James-style advanced statistics to inform his decisions, and taken a strictly economic approach to valuing and acquiring players. Under his leadership, the A’s have been a very successful franchise despite routinely carrying one of baseball’s smallest payrolls. Beane’s story caught the attention of author Michael Lewis, who made him the central character in his 2003 bestseller “Moneyball” and something of a cultural icon for sports analytics.

Beane’s methods continue to be analyzed and celebrated by sabermetricians, and the A’s continue to massively exceed expectations given the amount they spend. They own the best record in baseball so far this season, and have the fifth-lowest payroll.2 It’s the best 100-game start of Beane’s career, and the best for the organization since its 1990 pennant-winning squad. Over the last 15 seasons,3 the A’s under Beane have had the fifth-best winning percentage in baseball, with the fourth-lowest total payroll. (The data used here is current through Monday, July 21.)

Beane has been a godsend to the frugal A’s, enabling them to achieve top-tier performance at bottom-tier prices. For this, the A’s have paid him fairlymodestly4 — but since we don’t know how much winning is worth to the A’s organization, it’s hard to say exactly how much Beane has been worth to them.

For a team like the Red Sox, however, the picture is much more clear. Over the last 15 years, they’ve happily spent over $2 billion dollars in the pursuit of wins — and because they’re one of baseball’s most successful franchises, no one in Beantown is complaining.

From a strictly economic perspective, not offering Beane however much money it took to get him may have been one of the Red Sox’s poorest decisions since letting Babe Ruth go to the Yankees for next to nothing. And I mean that literally: Over the past 15 years, Billy Beane has been nothing less than the Babe Ruth of baseball GMs. The Red Sox offered Beane $2.5 million per year,5 but even $25 million would have been a bargain.

Finding Beane’s potential dollar value to the Red Sox is relatively simple: It’s the amount the team spent under general managers Theo Epstein and Ben Cherington, minus the amount it would have had to spend for the same performance with Beane as GM.6

To show this, we first we need to figure out just how many A’s wins Beane has been responsible for, and how much those wins would cost on the open market.

Let’s start by comparing the A’s performance under Beane’s leadership to the performance we would expect from a typical GM with the same payroll.7 I created a logistic regression model8 that predicts a team’s win percentage by season based on the team’s relative payroll (excluding Oakland from the data), as measured by how many standard deviations it was above or below the average MLB payroll for each season. Below, I’ve plotted the non-Oakland team-seasons from 2000 to 2013 (on which the model is based) in groups of 15 by payroll (so, the dot farthest to the right represents the 15 team-seasons with the highest relative payrolls), and plotted the model’s prediction as a red line. I then plotted Oakland’s 15 seasons through 2014 as a single green point:

 

The point on the upper right represents the 15 team-seasons with the highest relative payrolls. These teams were 2.68 standard deviations above the mean payroll on average and won 58.5 percent of their regular-season games on average.9 Oakland, on the other hand, averaged .81 standard deviations below the mean payroll and won 54.8 percent of its games on average.

From this we can take each team’s expected wins per season based on payroll,10 and then see how many games above or below average it ran. Here’s Oakland, broken down by year (Note: 2014 is through the season’s first 98 games only):

 

This comes out to 180.2 wins above expectation given the A’s payroll (165.5 prior to this year). That’s 12.0 wins above expectation per season (and there’s a good chance of that per-season average rising).

“Wins above expectation” may sound familiar to you. It’s conceptually very similar to wins above replacement (WAR), the stat we use to evaluate how many wins a player earns a team versus how many games that team would expect to win without him.11

Beane’s 12 wins per season above what we would expect of an average general manager is slightly more wins than Barry Bonds earned when he hit 73 home runs in 2001 (11.9 WAR). The most WAR earned by any batter over his entire career was 163 by Babe Ruth.12 In fact, if you assemble the top 15 position player seasons of all time, they still trail Beane’s 15 seasons as GM, with 180.1 WAR combined versus Beane’s 180.2 wins above expectation.

No one can get that lucky. If you’re expected to win 1,116 out of 2,364 games, winning 1,296 games instead may not look impossible, but that’s because our intuitions about these things are terrible. Excel’s binomial distribution function makes calculating such odds pretty easy:13 In this case they’re somewhere around one in 13 trillion — effectively zero.14 Of course, we can’t know to what degree Beane alone is responsible for the A’s success. But as GM, Beane is formally responsible for the A’s performance, and there aren’t any other obvious causes that would suggest he isn’t responsible (there have been several different managers and 100 percent turnover of players during Beane’s tenure).

Imagine the A’s wanted to have exactly this level of success and were willing to pay whatever it cost. With Billy Beane, the A’s have paid $839,902,108 to their players from 2000 up to and including the start of the 2014 season (but prior to recent acquisitions). How much do other teams normally have to pay for this level of success?

There are a lot of estimates for the price of wins out there, ranging from ESPN’s Dan Szymborski’s $5.5 million per marginal win and FanGraphs $6 million on the lower end to Lewie Pollis’s $7 million and up to Hardball Times’ $7.6 million on the high end. To make things a little more complicated, the price of wins has also risen substantially with the growth of payrolls in the last decade15:

 

If we use these values to price wins above or below expectation on a year-by-year basis for every team as we did for Oakland above, and then sum up by team, it would look like this:

 

FanGraphs’ value for Oakland’s performance adds up to $812 million since 2000, while the Hardball Times’ value adds up to $891 million. Over three-quarters of a billion dollars — that’s huge! We can smell-check these numbers by looking at the overall picture. Leaving aside standard deviations and year-by-year breakdowns for a moment, we can see how each team’s total payroll over the last 15 years has compared to its performance:

 

That trend line shows us how well teams have performed relative to how much they’ve paid, but we can also use it for the reverse:16 The Oakland Athletics have won 54.8 percent of their games, so the corresponding 15-year payroll (the amount we would expect a team to have paid for that win rate) is about $2.02 billion — about $1.18 billion higher than the Athletics actually paid.

So the smell-check turned out a higher number than the estimates based on the normal price of wins, when that normal price already seemed absurd.

This isn’t broken down year by year, so it could just be that the A’s won a lot more in years when wins were cheaper. To correct for this, we need a more empirical method for pricing wins. On a year-by-year basis, how big would each team’s payroll have to have been to buy its performance? Using the regression above (and some fancywork in R17), we can model this and see that wins may be harder to buy than standard win-valuation models (FanGraphs, Hardball Times, etc.) would suggest. Valuing each team’s relative season-by-season performance this way leads to a very different accounting from above:

 

Over the past 15 years, the A’s have exceeded expectations by close to $1.38 billion — even better than our smell-check estimate of $1.18 billion. This suggests that they’ve performed slightly better in years when they were at a bigger payroll disadvantage (at 2013 market value, those A’s wins would cost closer to $1.78 billion).18

Yes, that’s “billion” with a B. (Or two.)

* * * * *

Now that we have a sense of Beane’s performance and how much it would cost to replicate it, let’s turn back to the Boston Red Sox and their failure to sign him (or even to offer him anywhere near his worth).

The situations in Oakland and Boston aren’t directly comparable. Exploiting market inefficiencies is probably easier for Beane than it is for a successful big-money team, because he has never had to face the winner’s curse or the diminishing returns of spending. On the other hand, the A’s have been wayabove average, not just a little above average. Aside from the Red Sox’s post-season successes,19 the team has only performed 0.6 percent better than the A’s over the 15-year period — for which they’ve paid an extra $1.2 billion in salaries.

But some of that money was spent and some of those wins came before the Red Sox attempted to hire Beane. To be conservative, let’s just look at the period since Henry made Beane his offer: In the last 12 years, the Red Sox spent $1.714 billion on payroll, while the A’s spent $736 million. We can then break down what it could have looked like if Beane had worked for the Red Sox like so:

If we combine these — the price of the A’s performance ($736 million) plus Super-Expensive-Billy-Beane’s salary ($300 million) plus the additional 50 Red Sox wins at high market estimates ($370 million) – merely duplicating their previous level of success still would have saved the Red Sox more than $300 million relative to what they actually spent, and that’s with reasonably conservative assumptions. That’s money they could have pocketed, or spent making themselves even better.

In other words, failing to understand Beane’s true value may have cost the Red Sox hundreds of millions of dollars or more. “Moneyball” isn’t just some nerdy obsession that helps a few teams save a bit of money. It’s about more than nickels and dimes; it’s about millions and billions.

CORRECTION (July 24, 7:10 p.m.): A footnote in an earlier version of this story misstated the most recent year the Oakland A’s played in the World Series; it was 1990, not 1991.

http://fivethirtyeight.com/features/billion-dollar-billy-beane/

9

 

“Developing pitchers has been the biggest issue”

 

 

How the Rockies' front office works: A guide to dysfunction

By Bryan Kilpatrick  @purplerowBK on Jul 24 2014, 8:30a 106 

 

Nobody knows what's going on in the Rockies' front office. It's been that way for years, and it doesn't appear things are changing anytime soon.

Since the Colorado Rockies' last winning season in 2010, they've gone through two managers, won fewer than 43 percent of their games, and fielded what has evolved into the worst pitching staff in the majors. Most non-rebuilding teams, in the event of a similar situation, would have made significant front-office changes in the midst of such futility, but the Rockies are not most teams.

In this context, that isn't a good thing, and it only begins to scratch the surface of Colorado's deeply rooted problems.

During a disastrous 2012 season that saw the Rockies eventually lose a franchise-record 98 games, a strange series of events, which included general manager Dan O'Dowd offering to step down, culminated in the club's decision to adopt a tandem GM system of sorts. Bill Geivett, who had served as O'Dowd's top assistant since 2005, was promoted to director of major league operations, with O'Dowd remaining general manager but shifting his focus to player development and roster construction.

Tandem leadership in baseball isn't a bad thing on its own. Several teams -- most notably, the White Sox and Cubs -- employ a similar system. But what sets the Rockies apart is that Geivett actually has an office in the clubhouse. That can't make players comfortable, and it certainly has proven to have a negative effect on the field manager. Jim Tracy resigned after the 2012 season, citing philosophical differences with his superior, and it would surprise absolutely nobody if those differences centered around not wanting to be micromanaged.

Two years later, Walt Weiss is similarly unhappy with Geivett and the Rockies' front office according to Fox Sports' Ken Rosenthal. That news comes on the heels of comments from Rockies owner Dick Monfort last week on a Denver radio station in which he blamed Geivett for the team's poor record.

It appears the writing could be on the wall for Geivett, but what about O'Dowd? Why is he seemingly allowed to get off scot-free?

"I DON'T EVEN KNOW WHO'S THE GM. I THINK EVERYBODY OVER THERE IS STILL WONDERING WHO REALLY IS THE GM ... DAN AND (GEIVETT) ARE JUST BOTH COEXISTING."-FORMER ROCKIES OUTFIELDER DEXTER FOWLER, TO THE HOUSTON CHRONICLE

By all accounts, O'Dowd, who has been with the Rockies since 1999 despite never fielding a division-winner and having only two playoff appearances under his belt, is still the primary decision-maker in Colorado's front office when it comes to baseball-related things. He's listed as the GM on the Rockies' front-office roster on the team's official website, and beyond that, he's the man who laid out Colorado's plan for the near future in an interview with former Denver sportswriter Dave Krieger last fall -- an interview that revealed the club's sour opinion of Dexter Fowler, who was dealt to the Astros shortly thereafter. Fowler responded to O'Dowd's criticism by bringing up a valid point to Evan Drellich of the Houston Chronicle: nobody even knows who is in charge of the Rockies.

"I don't even know who's the GM. I think everybody over there is still wondering who really is the GM ... Dan and (Geivett) are just both coexisting."

The sentiments of Houston's center fielder echo those from others in the industry. As recently as last season, some opposing executives weren't sure who to contact in the Rockies' front office regarding trade discussions and other functions normally handled by general managers.

Fowler is hardly the only former Rockie who has been a victim of O'Dowd's public tongue-lashings over the years. Seth Smith and Ian Stewart were the subjects of his wrath after the Rockies' disappointing 2011 season, and both players were traded shortly thereafter. A year earlier, O'Dowd didn't like what he saw from Ubaldo Jimenez after his Cy Young-caliber 2010 season and decided to let everyone know about it. Similar things have happened in recent years with Jhoulys ChacinDrew PomeranzChristian Friedrich, and others. Simply put, O'Dowd has no problem throwing his players under the bus despite his own extensive list of shortcomings. Here are just a few:

Drafting and development

The Rockies had a good squad in 2006 -- a season in which a young, inexperienced team led the National League West well into June before eventually faltering -- through 2010, but the impressive depth they compiled to help build those teams had vanished by 2011 and the team still hasn't recovered. Friedrich, Greg Reynolds, and Casey Weathers were massive first-round busts during that time, and the Rockies' picks in the ensuing rounds in those drafts weren't much better.

Developing pitchers has been the biggest issue for O'Dowd and his staff. Since his first draft with the organization in 2000, exactly two pitchers -- Jeff Francis and Rex Brothers -- who were acquired in the draft and developed by the team have accumulated five-plus wins above replacement in their careers. Even highly touted pitching prospects from other organizations who found their way to Colorado's system have scuffled during the developmental process. Drew Pomeranz and Alex White, both of whom were top prospects in the Indians system before being acquired by the Rockies, are good examples of pitchers who flamed out at the big-league level under O'Dowd's watch. Even more damning is the fact that Pomeranz got his career back on track immediately after being dealt from the Rockies to the Oakland Athletics.

Implementation and execution of pitching philosophy

After their tumultuous 2012 campaign, the Rockies hired an organizational pitching director, Mark Wiley, and adopted a "pitch-to-contact" philosophy. The plan initially yielded strong dividends at the highest level, with Tyler Chatwood, Jhoulys Chacin, and Jorge De La Rosa each finishing with sub-3.50 ERAs in 2013. However, Coors Field -- a ballpark exaggerates even weak contact -- has flexed its muscle on the team's pitching staff this season. That, combined with numerous injuries to the staff, has resulted in a collective ERA of 5.06 through 101 games. Allowing opponents to put the ball in play is not always a bad strategy, particularly with a strong infield defense that includes Nolan ArenadoTroy Tulowitzki, and DJ LeMahieu, but Rockies pitchers haven't been able to execute that plan; the staff has finished 11th or worse in the NL in walks in each of the last four seasons.

Perhaps even more worrisome is that the Rockies own two of the top pitching prospects in the game, but both have taken significant steps in the wrong direction this season. After finishing 2013 as two of the best strikeout pitchers in the minors, Jon Grayand Eddie Butler have seen big drops in their whiff rates in 2014 and have not been anywhere near as dominant as they were a year ago. A big reason for the regression has to do with the Rockies' insistence on both hurlers limiting the use of their best pitches in exchange for pitching to the bottom of the zone, according to Baseball Prospectus' Jason Parks. Even once this peculiar set of "training wheels," as Parks puts it, are removed, Gray and Butler might not be given the best possible tools for success at the next level. Rockies pitchers have been ill-prepared all season, a scout recently told Fox Sports' Ken Rosenthal, quipping that the staff often pitches directly to opponents' strengths.

Free agency

The Rockies have the 19th-largest television market in baseball, and the team is firmly entrenched in a TV contract that is nowhere near as lucrative as others that have been signed in recent years. As such, they don't have a lot of money to spend. However, when ownership does give O'Dowd and company the OK to spend money on the open market, the results often aren't very good. After a pair of winning seasons, the 2011 Rockies had only a few minor holes to fill. That's why it's still perplexing that O'Dowd decided to spend almost $8 million on a multi-year deal with Ty Wigginton, only to make a similar mistake a year later by giving a three-year, $31.5 million contract to Michael Cuddyer. That's not a huge amount of money compared to what the DodgersGiantsCardinals,and other NL teams have spent in recent years, but it's still significant money that could have been better spent elsewhere.

"IF PRODUCT AND EXPERIENCE THAT BAD DON'T COME!"-ROCKIES OWNER DICK MONFORT TO A FAN IN RESPONSE TO AN EMAIL COMPLAINT.

The Rockies made significant offers toJose AbreuBrian McCann, andCarlos Ruiz last offseason before settling on a two-year, $12.5 million deal with Justin Morneau. The 33-year-old first baseman has enjoyed a renaissance with the Rockies this season (despite recently going on the disabled list with a neck injury). The same type of aggressive approach in free agency would likely help O'Dowd and his staff going forward, but it could also be argued that the Rockies should consider a full rebuild after what will likely be a fourth consecutive non-competitive season.

****

It's clear at this point that whatever the Rockies are doing in their front office isn't working. However, owner Dick Monfort does not see it that way. Though he has publicly called out Geivett, Monfort has said on multiple occasions that he doesn't believe a better option than the team's current two-headed GM duo exists. In fact, Monfort has gone as far as to say that O'Dowd is "head and shoulders above" every other GM in baseball.

O'Dowd, under whom the Rockies are 163 games south of .500, has somehow hypnotized Monfort into believing nobody else would be capable of running the team. With several good GM candidates available, that is a real shame. And, if Monfort truly believes that, he's going to find himself responding to a lot more angry emails than he already has -- and in turn, end up in more and more precarious situations -- over the next few years.

Come to think of it, maybe this is the best possible scenario for the Rockies.

http://www.sbnation.com/mlb/2014/7/24/5928281/rockies-front-office-dan-odowd-bill-geivett-dick-monfort

 

“Developing pitchers has been the biggest issue”

 

 

How the Rockies' front office works: A guide to dysfunction

By Bryan Kilpatrick  @purplerowBK on Jul 24 2014, 8:30a 106 

 

Nobody knows what's going on in the Rockies' front office. It's been that way for years, and it doesn't appear things are changing anytime soon.

Since the Colorado Rockies' last winning season in 2010, they've gone through two managers, won fewer than 43 percent of their games, and fielded what has evolved into the worst pitching staff in the majors. Most non-rebuilding teams, in the event of a similar situation, would have made significant front-office changes in the midst of such futility, but the Rockies are not most teams.

In this context, that isn't a good thing, and it only begins to scratch the surface of Colorado's deeply rooted problems.

During a disastrous 2012 season that saw the Rockies eventually lose a franchise-record 98 games, a strange series of events, which included general manager Dan O'Dowd offering to step down, culminated in the club's decision to adopt a tandem GM system of sorts. Bill Geivett, who had served as O'Dowd's top assistant since 2005, was promoted to director of major league operations, with O'Dowd remaining general manager but shifting his focus to player development and roster construction.

Tandem leadership in baseball isn't a bad thing on its own. Several teams -- most notably, the White Sox and Cubs -- employ a similar system. But what sets the Rockies apart is that Geivett actually has an office in the clubhouse. That can't make players comfortable, and it certainly has proven to have a negative effect on the field manager. Jim Tracy resigned after the 2012 season, citing philosophical differences with his superior, and it would surprise absolutely nobody if those differences centered around not wanting to be micromanaged.

Two years later, Walt Weiss is similarly unhappy with Geivett and the Rockies' front office according to Fox Sports' Ken Rosenthal. That news comes on the heels of comments from Rockies owner Dick Monfort last week on a Denver radio station in which he blamed Geivett for the team's poor record.

It appears the writing could be on the wall for Geivett, but what about O'Dowd? Why is he seemingly allowed to get off scot-free?

"I DON'T EVEN KNOW WHO'S THE GM. I THINK EVERYBODY OVER THERE IS STILL WONDERING WHO REALLY IS THE GM ... DAN AND (GEIVETT) ARE JUST BOTH COEXISTING."-FORMER ROCKIES OUTFIELDER DEXTER FOWLER, TO THE HOUSTON CHRONICLE

By all accounts, O'Dowd, who has been with the Rockies since 1999 despite never fielding a division-winner and having only two playoff appearances under his belt, is still the primary decision-maker in Colorado's front office when it comes to baseball-related things. He's listed as the GM on the Rockies' front-office roster on the team's official website, and beyond that, he's the man who laid out Colorado's plan for the near future in an interview with former Denver sportswriter Dave Krieger last fall -- an interview that revealed the club's sour opinion of Dexter Fowler, who was dealt to the Astros shortly thereafter. Fowler responded to O'Dowd's criticism by bringing up a valid point to Evan Drellich of the Houston Chronicle: nobody even knows who is in charge of the Rockies.

"I don't even know who's the GM. I think everybody over there is still wondering who really is the GM ... Dan and (Geivett) are just both coexisting."

The sentiments of Houston's center fielder echo those from others in the industry. As recently as last season, some opposing executives weren't sure who to contact in the Rockies' front office regarding trade discussions and other functions normally handled by general managers.

Fowler is hardly the only former Rockie who has been a victim of O'Dowd's public tongue-lashings over the years. Seth Smith and Ian Stewart were the subjects of his wrath after the Rockies' disappointing 2011 season, and both players were traded shortly thereafter. A year earlier, O'Dowd didn't like what he saw from Ubaldo Jimenez after his Cy Young-caliber 2010 season and decided to let everyone know about it. Similar things have happened in recent years with Jhoulys ChacinDrew PomeranzChristian Friedrich, and others. Simply put, O'Dowd has no problem throwing his players under the bus despite his own extensive list of shortcomings. Here are just a few:

Drafting and development

The Rockies had a good squad in 2006 -- a season in which a young, inexperienced team led the National League West well into June before eventually faltering -- through 2010, but the impressive depth they compiled to help build those teams had vanished by 2011 and the team still hasn't recovered. Friedrich, Greg Reynolds, and Casey Weathers were massive first-round busts during that time, and the Rockies' picks in the ensuing rounds in those drafts weren't much better.

Developing pitchers has been the biggest issue for O'Dowd and his staff. Since his first draft with the organization in 2000, exactly two pitchers -- Jeff Francis and Rex Brothers -- who were acquired in the draft and developed by the team have accumulated five-plus wins above replacement in their careers. Even highly touted pitching prospects from other organizations who found their way to Colorado's system have scuffled during the developmental process. Drew Pomeranz and Alex White, both of whom were top prospects in the Indians system before being acquired by the Rockies, are good examples of pitchers who flamed out at the big-league level under O'Dowd's watch. Even more damning is the fact that Pomeranz got his career back on track immediately after being dealt from the Rockies to the Oakland Athletics.

Implementation and execution of pitching philosophy

After their tumultuous 2012 campaign, the Rockies hired an organizational pitching director, Mark Wiley, and adopted a "pitch-to-contact" philosophy. The plan initially yielded strong dividends at the highest level, with Tyler Chatwood, Jhoulys Chacin, and Jorge De La Rosa each finishing with sub-3.50 ERAs in 2013. However, Coors Field -- a ballpark exaggerates even weak contact -- has flexed its muscle on the team's pitching staff this season. That, combined with numerous injuries to the staff, has resulted in a collective ERA of 5.06 through 101 games. Allowing opponents to put the ball in play is not always a bad strategy, particularly with a strong infield defense that includes Nolan ArenadoTroy Tulowitzki, and DJ LeMahieu, but Rockies pitchers haven't been able to execute that plan; the staff has finished 11th or worse in the NL in walks in each of the last four seasons.

Perhaps even more worrisome is that the Rockies own two of the top pitching prospects in the game, but both have taken significant steps in the wrong direction this season. After finishing 2013 as two of the best strikeout pitchers in the minors, Jon Grayand Eddie Butler have seen big drops in their whiff rates in 2014 and have not been anywhere near as dominant as they were a year ago. A big reason for the regression has to do with the Rockies' insistence on both hurlers limiting the use of their best pitches in exchange for pitching to the bottom of the zone, according to Baseball Prospectus' Jason Parks. Even once this peculiar set of "training wheels," as Parks puts it, are removed, Gray and Butler might not be given the best possible tools for success at the next level. Rockies pitchers have been ill-prepared all season, a scout recently told Fox Sports' Ken Rosenthal, quipping that the staff often pitches directly to opponents' strengths.

Free agency

The Rockies have the 19th-largest television market in baseball, and the team is firmly entrenched in a TV contract that is nowhere near as lucrative as others that have been signed in recent years. As such, they don't have a lot of money to spend. However, when ownership does give O'Dowd and company the OK to spend money on the open market, the results often aren't very good. After a pair of winning seasons, the 2011 Rockies had only a few minor holes to fill. That's why it's still perplexing that O'Dowd decided to spend almost $8 million on a multi-year deal with Ty Wigginton, only to make a similar mistake a year later by giving a three-year, $31.5 million contract to Michael Cuddyer. That's not a huge amount of money compared to what the DodgersGiantsCardinals,and other NL teams have spent in recent years, but it's still significant money that could have been better spent elsewhere.

"IF PRODUCT AND EXPERIENCE THAT BAD DON'T COME!"-ROCKIES OWNER DICK MONFORT TO A FAN IN RESPONSE TO AN EMAIL COMPLAINT.

The Rockies made significant offers toJose AbreuBrian McCann, andCarlos Ruiz last offseason before settling on a two-year, $12.5 million deal with Justin Morneau. The 33-year-old first baseman has enjoyed a renaissance with the Rockies this season (despite recently going on the disabled list with a neck injury). The same type of aggressive approach in free agency would likely help O'Dowd and his staff going forward, but it could also be argued that the Rockies should consider a full rebuild after what will likely be a fourth consecutive non-competitive season.

****

It's clear at this point that whatever the Rockies are doing in their front office isn't working. However, owner Dick Monfort does not see it that way. Though he has publicly called out Geivett, Monfort has said on multiple occasions that he doesn't believe a better option than the team's current two-headed GM duo exists. In fact, Monfort has gone as far as to say that O'Dowd is "head and shoulders above" every other GM in baseball.

O'Dowd, under whom the Rockies are 163 games south of .500, has somehow hypnotized Monfort into believing nobody else would be capable of running the team. With several good GM candidates available, that is a real shame. And, if Monfort truly believes that, he's going to find himself responding to a lot more angry emails than he already has -- and in turn, end up in more and more precarious situations -- over the next few years.

Come to think of it, maybe this is the best possible scenario for the Rockies.

http://www.sbnation.com/mlb/2014/7/24/5928281/rockies-front-office-dan-odowd-bill-geivett-dick-monfort